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Speed Racer - Emile Hirsch (DVD) interview

Emile Hirsch plays Speed Racer

Compiled by Jack Foley

IN THIS latest Speed Racer interview, Emile Hirsch discusses his reasons for doing the film, coping with fame and celebrity and being reunited with Into The Wild director Sean Penn for the forthcoming Milk.

Q: Why were you keen to do Speed Racer?
Emile Hirsch: I was a really big fan of the TV show. When I was six-years-old I used to watch it every morning. When I first saw The Matrix it was one of the most incredible experiences I ever had. The idea of putting together the Wachowski Brothers and the TV show seemed like being a great idea for a fantastic film. The Wachowski Brothers are something else – they are like the Coen Brothers, but from another planet.

Q: How demanding were the scenes you had to do when you were driving the car which was set on a gimbal?
Emile Hirsch: It was hot and cramped and you are strapped in and the thing is jerky. Probably the most draining part about it was that there were these flashing lights that stayed on you and you got really hot and when it jerked you about you got a bit of whiplash and there is really nothing you can do. You can tell them to turn it down a little bit but at a certain point they can’t turn it down any more. I thought the gimbal was my worst enemy when I was shooting it. In The Wild was hard but this was like having your testicles ripped off.

But I realised that the gimbal actually helped me ultimately in the film. In all the scenes when Speed is racing he is mad and aggravated and when I looked at it I felt it looked pretty authentic because I was probably in that mood when I shot it. So it ended up like almost being one of those method actor things. So as dastardly as I viewed the gimbal, maybe the gimbal was a little kinder to me than I thought.

Q: Films like Into The Wild and Speed Racer suggests you like an element of danger?
Emile Hirsch: The idea of doing those movies was exciting. Maybe I am at a point where I am enjoying a kind of extremity in the work and a willingness to put myself in uncomfortable positions. Ultimately, I think that I kind of thrive on that right now. I have different tastes in movies. As much as I like a film like Into The Wild I would also like to see a film like Speed Racer. I am really big on special effects and summer movies and if you put the Wachowskis with that then that is the best of what those movies can be. I think the movie is pretty cool.

Q. Was the TV series of Speed Racer a big hit in the States?
Emile Hirsch: I think it was. I’m not of the generation of Speed Racer, I did not see the original playing of it, I saw the re-runs on TV. When I was six years old I would always watch the show while eating cereal. My dad never had any milk but there were all these sodas, so I would have Cheerios with Cream Soda and get a total sugar rush watching Speed Racer.

Q. It’s an exciting time for you with all these movies and next up is Milk, the Harvey Milk story, when again you are playing a real person…
Emile Hirsch: Yeah, he’s Cleve Jones who went on to be the founder of the NAMES Project Aids Memorial Quilt. Milk was an extraordinary experience for me because, aside from the story about human rights, it also gave me a chance to hang out with Cleve Jones because he was on the set every day. So, I would shoot a scene and then go up to him and ask he had really felt at that moment. That was awesome! If I could do that on every movie I would.

Q: Are you concerned about how fame might affect you?
Emile Hirsch: Personality wise, no, not at all. I am me and I don’t think anything is going to change that. I have talked about that with people who are really famous and I think it is really about keeping yourself grounded. Someone told me that it is not you that changes, it is everyone around you…the way they perceive you. So I think it is about being good and keeping your head screwed on right.

Q. Working with a talent like Sean Penn must have been a case of watching and learning?
Emile Hirsch: Watch and learn – that was my motto. And then try to throw him off every now and then! Being directed with him was fantastic and getting to act in front of the camera with him was a whole different joy. I was a little bit nervous about how it was going to go. A lot of people view Sean as an actor, but I didn’t. After having working with him so long as a director [on Into The Wild] I just viewed him as the director. So when I started acting with him I had no idea what that was going to be like. Then we did our first scene together and it was like Wow!, we really got along great.

Q: How would you compare the Wachowski Brothers and Sean Penn as directors?
Emile Hirsch: They’re very different. Sean is going for more of a natural feel to the acting and this [Speed Racer] is much more stylised. It’s kind of comic book. Speed is more of a minimalist performance than I have probably given in a while. It is almost staccato at certain points.

Q. Was Speed’s suit uncomfortable to wear?
Emile Hirsch: The funny thing is that I have his suit but when I am in the gimbal you can’t see my legs, so I was wearing a pair of boxer shorts. One day I had the top of the suit on and my boxers and these ridiculous looking tennis shoes and I thought…if only people knew what Speed Racer really looked like!

Q: What plans are there for a Speed Racer sequel?
Emile Hirsch: In terms of story, I don’t know. I think the film is fantastic, experimental and it gives you something you have not seen before. I would be delighted to wok again on another one.

Q: What about being a Speed Racer action figure?
Emile Hirsch: It’s cool – my friend called me to say he saw the toys. I used to play with toys a lot when I was a kid, so it is pretty cool. Then I saw the action figure and I looked like Dennis Quaid in 1995 – which is a good thing, an upgrade. Me and my mom got some of the toys and she has them.

Read our review of Speed Racer